1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.
7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”
Little by little, the disciples had their preconceived notions stripped away. And at each point in their journey of faith, they were always questioning. We might look back at them with our 20/20 hindsight and wonder how they could NOT have seen something so “obvious”–that Jesus was the Son of God, the prophesied Messiah, the Christ. After all the miracles and the healings and teaching, we think they ought to have caught on, but it seems that they didn’t. And then we have the Transfiguration.
In this fallen world, we have trouble conceiving of the glory of God, trouble seeing Jesus for who He is, what He is really like. You see, the transfiguration on the mountain wasn’t a change as much as it was a revelation, a stripping away of our notions of Him, a moment for His true nature to shine through the grit and grime of this world, a chance for Him to step out of the box into which we’ve put Him.
The word we translate here as “transfigured” is μετεμορφωθη (“metemorphothe”), from which we get our modern word “metamorphosis.” We often use that word to denote things that are transformed before our very eyes, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis or a person who emerges from their past life into a new one. We speak of that change as something unexplainable, and yet there is one aspect we always acknowledge: this new thing that exists after the metamorphosis was actually there all along, it is the true character of the one who is seemingly transformed. The butterfly was just a caterpillar for a while and it was always meant to be a bright a beautiful flying thing. The alcoholic who emerges from years of self-abuse to become a better father or teacher or even a preacher, he was always those things inside, his true character hidden by layers of sin and guilt laid on by this world.
“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Our Lord’s fundamental character has never changed, and He was always that bright and shining Being that the Peter, James, and John saw on that mountain. They–and we–just didn’t see Him that way.
And then, with Jesus’ true character revealed, with the two prophets there as witnesses of His glory, along comes the cloud of God’s glory. This must remind us of those times when God descended in a cloud to visit His people Israel.
34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
God’s glory is tremendous, awesome, frightening and fascinating. His glory fills whatever place He enters. The cloud is used to conceal His majesty, the glory which we are not holy enough to see. But we need some sort of affirmation from Him now and then. And so, as if the literal glory of Jesus wasn’t enough, as if the Word of God shared by the prophets wasn’t enough, as if the simple presence of God’s cloud of glory wasn’t enough, God chooses to make everything clear for the three apostles–and for us: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
That is what those apostles were supposed to take away from this meeting. They were to know, to truly KNOW that this Man who had been their Teacher and Lord was the very Son of God. Since Jesus was indeed the Christ, then all the things foretold of Him would soon come to pass: His persecution, His death, and His Resurrection. The disciples needed to know that so when they saw these things happening they would understand and have faith.
We who read the Gospel accounts today like to think we can see what the apostles must have missed. When Jesus says “Follow Me,” we like to think we’d jump right up and follow Him. When Jesus calms the sea or walks on water, we are not amazed. When Jesus heals the blind, raises the dead, or feeds the multitudes, we nod our heads knowingly. “Yep, that’s our Jesus!”
But is it? Do we REALLY see God the Son in those things? The apostles didn’t. Yes, they grew in their faith, and Peter even blurted out that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) But it wasn’t until Jesus took these three men up the mountain that they saw who He really was, that they saw His true glory and majesty, that they knew for sure that God was among them–Emmanuel.
My prayer for all of us is that we have such a moment. Let’s set aside for now all the things we read about Jesus in Scripture and see Him there on that mountaintop, see Him metamorphosed into the resplendent Son of God He truly is. See Christ as He is meant to be, as we will see Him in the New Jerusalem, shining so bright that we need no sun nor moon to light the sky. THAT is the Jesus we must see, in order that we can understand what is to come.
You see, this glorious Savior on that mountain is the same Savior who would die a bloody and dirty and violent death for all of us. This magnificent Lord of lords and King of kings was about step down among us and allow Himself to be mortally wounded for our sins. This shining beacon of hope, this Son of Man who would one day judge all mankind, would become an object of derision and sport, crucified between two thieves like any common criminal. THAT is the Jesus the apostles and we are meant to see.
God was pleased in Jesus because His Son was willing to lay aside His own glory out of love for us, willing to pay the price for our transgressions, for our rebellion, for our pride.
Today, I pray we can all take a moment to get away from all the junk of this world, to step into our prayer closet or out into the snowy fields or even just a quiet moment before bed, and take some time to really see Jesus for who He is. We need to see that transfigured Jesus so that we can understand that this shining Lord set aside His crown of glory for a crown of thorns. We have to see that this King of kings traded His purple robe for thirty-nine lashes. We have to know that this beacon on a mountaintop is the same Jesus who would be raised on a cross at a place called the Hill of Skulls. Let us that beautiful Jesus and think about what He gave up because of His abundant love for all of us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
That is the true Jesus.
Father God, we must always thank You for Your Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus. Thank You for Your unending mercy and Your amazing grace. Lord, show me Your glory, help me to understand what You gave up so that I can see what I have to gain. Teach my heart, O God, and grant me Your wisdom so that I can become more and more like Your glorious Son. Amen.